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Biological Cosmic Ray Experiment (BIOCORE)

NSSDCA ID: 1972-096A-11

Mission Name: Apollo 17 Command and Service Module (CSM)


The biological cosmic ray experiment (BIOCORE) had the primary scientific objective of determining if heavy cosmic ray particles (stripped nuclei) injure the brain, eyes, skin, and other tissues. The experiment consisted of a group of pocket mice with cosmic ray detectors planted under their scalps which were flown aboard the Apollo 17 Command Module in a special container.

Experiment Package

The mice were flown in a closed, self-sustaining package which required no inflight handling, data recording, or electrical power. The package was stowed in the A-6 locker of the Command Module. The overall package was 0.35 m long. A 0.29 m long, 0.1778 m diameter hermetically sealed aluminum cannister contained six 0.0286 m diameter perforated aluminum tubes and one 0.625 m diameter perforated stainless steel tube. The six aluminum tubes were arranged circumferentially around the stainless steel tube. The central tube contained 0.530 kg of potassium superoxide (KO2) to absorb carbon dioxide and provide oxygen during flight. Five of the aluminum tubes each held one mouse and 30 g of food seeds, the sixth was empty. The package also was equipped with pressure relief valves and two minimum/maximum temperature recorders. The package was held in the locker with straps and thermal conducting grease was applied to the contact points to prevent overheating of the interior. A radiation monitor was mounted to the inside bottom of the locker to measure the overall radiation environment. An identical package with five mice was kept on Earth as a control.

Radiation Monitors

The radiation monitors implanted under the scalps of the mice consisted of plastic nucleur track detectors composed of two layers of cellulose nitrate sandwiched between two layers of Lexan with a surface area of approximately 0.55 square centimeters. The edges of the monitors were heat sealed and were about 0.58 mm thick. The monitors were then coated with paralene and attached to a 382-RTV silicone rubber platform which has been molded to match the shape of the mouse' skull contour. The monitors were surgically implanted under the scalps of the mice 35 to 38 days before launch and covered the entire brain.

Pocket Mice

The Pocket Mouse (Perognathus longimembris) is a heteromyid rodent native to arid regions of the southwest U.S. and northern Mexico. They weigh approximately 7 to 12 grams and were chosen because of their small size and ability to drop their metabolic rate dramatically while at rest or in confinement. Additionally they do not require drinking water, are natural hoarders so food could be provided all at once, produce concentrated waste products, and are capable of withstanding environmental stress.

Experiment Plan

The mice and food were placed in their tubes on 2 December 1972 at 20:50 UT. The assembly was flushed with oxygen and checked for leaks. It was prepared for installation at 19:00 UT on 5 December. The internal pressure in this period ranged from 22,000 to 34,000 Newtons per square meter. The package was installed in the A-6 locker and the locker then placed in the CM. The mice were in space a total of about 12 days, 13 hours. The experiment package was removed from the CM at 23:30 UT on December 19. The package was flushed with a 50:50 mixture of oxygen and helium until arrival at the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, American Samoa at 02:40 UT December 20. The package was disassembled and the mice removed and weighed. Four of the mice were in good condition, the fifth had died, probably early in the flight. The four living mice were anesthesized and perfused through the heart and then the intracranial cavity with a formaldehyde/acetic acid/methyl alcohol mixture (FAM) which fixed the brain and other tissues in their natural state. Autopsies were performed on the mice and the heads preserved. They were returned to Ames Research Center and the radiation monitors were photographed and had their exact positions determined. The monitors were processed and etched to determine the trajectories of cosmic ray tracks. Using this information, the mouse brains were sectioned and studied for lesions in the expected areas from analysis of the cosmic ray detector tracks. The eyes, lungs, livers, and skin were also examined. Examinations were also done on the control group and other control mice.

Alternate Names

  • Apollo17CSM/BiologicalCosmicRayExperiment_BIOCORE_

Facts in Brief

Mass: 6.1 kg

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Manned Space Flight (United States)


  • Life Science: None assigned

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this experiment can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail

Selected References

  • Haymaker, W., et al., Project Biocore (M212), a biological cosmic ray experiment - procedures, summary, and conclusions, Environmental Medicine, 46, Sect. 2, 467-481, Apr. 1975.
  • Bailey, O. T., et al., Biocore experiment, in Apollo 17 Prelim. Sci. Rept., NASA SP-330, Wash., DC, 1973.
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